Dubai: World number one and former four-time champion Novak Djokovic got off to a perfect start with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri to join Dubai resident Karen Khachanov and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open, on Monday.
Returning to Dubai after a four-year gap with a spotless 13-0 record for the 2020 season, the Serbian world number one took exactly an hour to dispatch his Tunisian opponent. This is only the second time the two have met each other, and both meetings have been in Dubai.
Djokovic had also won in straight sets — and with the same scoreline — against Jaziri the last time the two played here in the opening round in 2016.
“It’s a great way to start out the tournament. I miss playing here. I really enjoy it. I enjoy night sessions. There’s a lot of people for an opening day of the tournament. It’s a working day so I want to thank everyone coming out. It was a great atmosphere,” Djokovic said.
“An one-hour match, I think I’ve done everything as well as I imagined it to be for the first match. Of course, there’s things that always can be improved, things that can be better. But I have to be satisfied with the performance,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kohlschreiber — the oldest player in the main draw this year — was joined by recent Dubai resident Khachanov in the second round although with contrasting wins. Khachanov, who last year bought an apartment in Dubai, eased off to a 7-6 (2), 6-1 win over Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazkhstan, while Germany’s 36-year-old Kohlschreiber got a good measure of his opponent before beating the Arab world’s highest ranked player, Mohammad Safwat 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
A break down on two occasions in the opening set, Khachanov was pleased with his form heading into the second round where he will meet the winner of the match between qualifier Dennis Novak and Indian wild card Prajnesh Gunneswaran. “The opening match is never easy. The first round is pretty tough always. For me it was important to get used to the conditions,” Khachanov said.
It was probably that first set that decided the ultimate outcome of the match. Each time Kukushkin made the move, Khachanov somehow managed to dig into his reserves and break back to send the set into a tiebreak that the Russian won 7-2 in exactly an hour.
“I’m really happy I could get the win. I have another match, another opportunity to play better, like always, to improve. The most important is the win. I’m really happy with that. There were some difficult moments during the match. I was break down twice and that’s really great to keep that first set. I think it was an important one. In the second set everything went much better,” the 23-year-old smiled.
The second set was a breeze as Khachanov as he broke in the second and fourth games, and barring a held serve in the sixth, Khachanov was home with set and match 6-1 in 30 minutes. “There are always nerves. I think there is pressure for everything. The point is how you deal with it and how you go through it. You can go out from the court winning or losing, but there are sometimes really small differences between winning and losing. It can be decided by a few points, a few important ones,” he related.
“That’s why it’s really important to stay there mentally, to have a mindset to fight till the end. That’s what I’m doing actually in all matches, in the practice, in every match on the tournament. That’s all I can do. The results will be up and down. You just try to win as more matches as possible. Basically there are no secrets,” Khachanov added.
A semi-finalist here in 2014, Kohlschreiber was also relieved at going through to the second round where he may run into top seed and four-time Dubai champion Novak Djokovic. “I think I missed too many opportunities in the first set. He won the big points, served quite well on the breakpoints. I think I gave him too many easy mistakes. I was in quite a good position many times, but I missed quite easy shots,” he rued.
“I was not unhappy with my game, but this took away a little bit of my confidence. I played too safe. He stepped it up and played aggressive, especially in the last game, 5-4. He was returning very well. He took the chances to play aggressive,” the German complimented his opponent from Egypt.
Novak Djokovic bt Malek Jaziri 6-1, 6-2; Karen Khachanov bt Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 (2), 6-1; Philipp Kohlschreiber bt Mohammad Safwat 4-6, 6-4, 6-0; Andrey Rublev bt Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-4; Richard Gasquet bt Lloyd Harris 7-6, 6-4.
John Peers/Michael Venus bt Pierre-Hugues Herbert/Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-4; Henri Kontinen/Jan-Lennard Struff bt Mate Pavic/Bruno Soares 7-6, 7-6.